An Islamic State operative responsible for overseeing the group’s “external networks” throughout the Middle East was killed in an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria on Nov. 12, according to Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) Spokesman Colonel John Dorrian.
“Of note, coalition forces conducted a strike resulting in the death of Iraqi national Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi, who was emir of ISIL’s [Islamic State’s] Middle East external networks, including against Americans, Turkish and European targets,” Dorrian said during a press briefing on Nov. 16. Abd al-Basit “was a key facilitator for ISIL’s external operations routes through Turkey and was responsible for attacks within the Middle East.”
“Along with these external attacks and plots, he has also been connected to convoy, reconnaissance, and facilitation extremist travel, finances and weapons in the region,” Dorrian continued. Abd al-Basit’s “death degrades and delays ISIL’s current plots against regional targets and deprives them of a capable senior manager who provided oversight over many external attacks.”
Judging by Dorrian’s description, it appears that Abd al-Basit was involved in plotting against Western and Turkish targets in the Middle East. But the OIR spokesman did not say if Abd al-Basit was connected to any plots inside the West, including a string of attacks in Europe since 2015. Asked what specific “external attack plots” Abd al-Basit was involved in, Dorrian responded that he didn’t “have that level of detail to provide” and would have to follow up with the press.
The Islamic State’s external operations arm has planned large-scale attacks such as the assault on Paris in Nov. 2015. The group’s online planners have also directed small-scale operations in Europe and also contacted jihadists inside the US. Officials have described these plots as being “remote-controlled.” [See LWJ reports: Terror plots in Germany, France were ‘remote-controlled’ by Islamic State operatives and Ohio man allegedly communicated with an Islamic State ‘external attack planner’.]
The US-led military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has repeatedly targeted operatives involved in plotting against the West and Western interests abroad. US officials have stressed that the external operations arm is integrated with the rest of the organization. Baghdadi’s lieutenants are tasked with defending their turf over there, as well as other duties, while also planning terror over here.
The US military announced in Dec. 2015 that several members of the Islamic State’s external operations arm had been targeted in airstrikes.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the death of Abu Ali al Anbari in March. Anbari was a key figure in the so-called caliphate’s operations in Iraq and Syria, and also had a hand in the group’s international plotting, according to Carter.
Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the Islamic State’s spokesman, oversaw the organization’s external operations branch prior to his demise in August.
In October, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend explained that within the “top tier” of the Islamic State’s hierarchy “there’s an overlap between leadership in Mosul, leadership in Raqqa and external operations.” The “top tier of leaders do all those” and are “involved in all of those things.”
“So by killing those individuals,” Townsend explained, “we affect both sides of this theater and external operations, as well.”
Separately, Secretary of Defense Carter said in October that preventing “external operations” is “our highest priority.” He said the assault on Mosul will lead to “more intelligence, more information about how they’re operating and therefore get new opportunities to attack external plotters.”
During testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence earlier today, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said that the US was having a lot of “success” in hunting down members of both the Islamic State’s and al Qaeda’s external operations based in the Middle East.